It wasn’t three weeks ago that we were all ready to write off Tennessee for good this season.
The Vols had just been pasted by a thoroughly average N.C. State at home, a second straight loss that dropped a team expected to compete for a top three finish in the SEC to 6-4 on the season. It wasn’t pretty in Knoxville, as concerns about Jeronne Maymon’s health and point guard play reared their ugly head.
This team had a front line made of up two plodding land warriors and lacked a playmaking leader that could handle the ball. They were going to end up being just another SEC team, a basketball team forgotten about at a football school.
But something funny has happened in the last 10 days. Someone lit a fire underneath the Vols.
In their last game before the New Year, Tennessee mollywhopped Virginia, winning 87-52 in Thompson-Boling Arena, and after laying siege to some poor, non-Division I program, the Vols whipped up on LSU in Baton Rouge on Tuesday night.
Might Cuonzo Martin’s club have turned the corner?
Before we start calling this team an SEC contender, let’s wait and see what they can do against the likes of Kentucky or Florida or Missouri, but for now, I think it’s safe to say that things are trending in the right direction.
What has changed?
For starters, Antonio Barton is finally shooting the ball well. He’s scored 14 points in three straight games and is shooting 11-for-18 from three during that stretched. And while Barton hasn’t developed into the playmaker Tennessee needed, Jordan McRae has done his best to step up of late. He’s averaging 5.0 assists in each of the last three games against Division I competition.
There are still limitations on this team. Their bigs are still on the small side. Maymon’s knees are still going to be a problem. Their point guard issues are not going to solve themselves.
But they not only picked up two wins they desperately needed, this group now has some confidence heading into the throes of league play.